Superbly written spam

Originally published on 24 November 2013 on

We’ve all passed comment on poorly written spam, particularly those Nigerian letters asking you to send your bank account details so that they can transfer a load of money to you, or the emails from your ‘bank’ with basic spelling errors.

I thought I’d point out the opposite. Well, not actually opposite, in that this spam, a comment waiting for moderation on a blog post, is not beautiful writing in and of itself. But I think it’s really fantastic in fulfilling its purpose, to try to get published, though the author (or robot) probably didn’t expect to be published in this form.

Magnificent goods from you, man. I have take into accout your stuff prior to and you are simply extremely wonderful. I actually like what you’ve acquired right here, certainly like what you’re stating and the best way in which you assert it. You’re making it entertaining and you still care for to stay it smart. I can’t wait to learn much more from you. That is actually a wonderful website.

OK. I’m exaggerating. ‘Account’ is spelt incorrectly and ‘you still care for to stay it smart’ is a mind-twister. Still, it’s so wonderfully vague. The ‘goods’ could refer to either a product or the writing itself. It piles on the praise, so unspecific that it feels like it could be specific. I ‘like what you’re stating… and the way in which you assert it’.

The different forms of praise are impressive: previous knowledge of one’s work or reputation, personal praise: ‘you are simply extremely wonderful’, praise for the writing itself appealing to someone who wants to be 1/ entertaining 2/caring and/or 3/smart. The spambot tries to establish a personal connection (‘I can’t want to learn much more from you’) before admitting (‘actually’) that it’s not only read the blog post but the whole website.

As a bit of marketing, whoever wrote this out put some thought into: ‘How can I appeal to the widest number of website owners and bloggers in a way that they’ll be more likely to accept this as a comment which allows me to put my spammy e-mail address or website in their comments? How can I not let on that I haven’t read the post and am indeed a robot?’

Well done, spambot writer. I hope someone paid you well for your work.

Posted in Editing & Work | Leave a comment

Book review: Andrew Sean Greer’s Less is Lost

Less is LostLess is Lost by Andrew Sean Greer
My rating:
4 of 5 stars

I loved ‘Less’ so much that I guess four stars is a fall from five. I wasn’t opposed to a sequel to ‘Less’ but what would it bring to be new, to be engaging? I love Greer’s writing, and find it both immensely readable and at times, simply beautiful. I didn’t find the American adventures quite as compelling as his international ones. There were some fun parts that made me laugh, but I suppose I wasn’t charmed in the same way as being freshly introduced to Arthur Less. The other thing is that I loved (and was surprised) by the mystery of the narrator of the first book; losing this tension felt a bit unsatisfying. My husband hated how the narrator announced too often, ‘I’m Freddy Pelu!’ whereas I found that there were a number of odd descriptions of the race of a character, a sense that Greer wants to do right and be correct about writing in these fraught times but isn’t quite sure how to do so. One description, of an old, Black woman made me think that ‘old’ and ‘Black’ was possibly the least interesting way to say something about someone. Still, I love that Greer wrote a comic novel that was taken seriously as literature, that he was celebrated for it, and that he portrayed gay aging in a way so poignant, relatable and funny, and that goodwill carried over to reading ‘Less is Lost’.

View all my reviews

Posted in Book, Book Review, Review | 1 Comment

2023 update: Do you Vélib in life after love?

My favourite thing to do in Paris is to ride around on a Vélib, the almost free biking system. I wondered how much it had changed in seven years, as I’d heard a lot had changed. New operators. Competition from other bike schemes, more chaotically organised where people leave the bikes in random places. Electric scooters too, which I’m too afraid to try. And e-bikes. The current Vélib system has e-bikes.

It was no simple thing to figure out how to use the system regularly while in Paris. Being there a week, I reckoned I’d need two 3-day passes, which requires getting a special identity card from the metro system. Going through the payment system and putting down a large deposit each time I used one would be too cumbersome.

But when I asked the fellow at the closest metro station about a card that I needed to use the Vélib system, he said, checking with his colleague, that he’d never heard of such a thing. While it was the only time this happened this week, this has happened a number of times on previous trips to Paris. It’s a guessing game. You ask for information directly but then end up asking questions to get negative responses until you finally ask the right one. In this case, even after rewording my question, I left, dejected, but then checked the information online, and found out I needed a ‘découverte’ card. It was only EUR 5 and required photos to stick to the card. Why hadn’t I brought those extra photos I kept for just such an occasion? There are actually photo booths all over Paris, and the train stations, so I made some photos for EUR 10, went and bought the proper card from the fellow (who sort of indicated, ‘oh, that’s what you wanted’) and then discovered that you really don’t need the photos on the card, and the photo doesn’t fit in any case. I cut it down to size and stuck in on anyways.

From there, you subscribe online for a pass, and are given an ID code and a password. The ID code shows up immediately on the Vélib app, so I assumed the password would too. But when I went out to get my first Vélib, it asked for the ID code, and THEN for the password, and the password was nowhere in sight. Where, where could it be? Nowhere it seemed. If you don’t write it down the first

Seven years ago, I was so pleased to have obtained one of these, which allowed me to use the system the whole few months I was there, without renewing the pass every few days, like this trip.

time, you snooze, you lose. So, I called the helpline and the helpful person on English help reset my code and gave it to me. Hurrah. So, I rented my first Vélib bike and was surprised to see that after you enter in the ID code and the password, you then connect it to your travel card, and then don’t need to use them again! Just the card.

And then… after my first excursion, I put my bike back into one of the docking stations, and went for lunch. But then the next time I tried to use the bike, I couldn’t get one out. Sigh. I tried a few times, walked around and then took the Metro for the first (and only) time. When I got home, and called the helpline, I got the same person! Perhaps there is only one English helpdesk operator. She told me that I hadn’t docked the bike properly. Oops. She reset it for me, kindly, and soon after I received an email, in French, scolding me for being a bad Vélib user and asking me to be more careful from now on. How French, I thought.

But sorry for all these details. The experience on the bikes was as good as ever. There are more bike paths than I remember, many of them wide, and busy with cyclists (and some scooters). What surprised me was that with so many Vélibs in use at all times, the biggest problem was not finding a Vélib but finding an empty spot to put the Vélibs back at the stations. Even though they seem to have a new system where you can put a Vélib back in a station when it’s full, by locking itself to something else, the one time I needed to try it, I couldn’t figure it out.

It was exhilarating and terrifying as you are often in busy traffic and super close to the cars. But the thing is, Parisian drivers seem to be use to all this chaos, and there are so many other bikes on the road. So, you just try your best, and cars move around you, and you around cars. The only time I saw people raise their voices was to prevent accidents, when a pedestrian or car or bike were really too close and about to collide.

The bikes are in much better condition than they were seven years ago. The tires were filled. The seats were easily adjustable. There was occasionally the loud brake. Now, the ebikes are such a good idea, and there are as many ebikes as regular bikes, usually. But every time I tried to use them, I could feel an initial acceleration when I first got on, and then … nothing. Nada. I’m sad to report that it took me five days before a young colleague told me she’d had the same problem and you have to press ‘3’ on the dashboard to give it some juice, otherwise it stays in ‘1’. I only got to try a proper ebike once after that. Strangely, it was on a bike that someone had left at a station unlocked and still running (on their account), but they’d already set it on ‘3’ and what a difference it made. It was fast and quite fun.

All in all, what a week. Paris is so compact that I used the metro only one time the whole time I was there, and the rest of the time, I was on a Vélib, or walked. I even went up to Sacre Coeur twice and was definitely winded, it would have been better with a functional ebike! What also made it easy was that I had internet access on my phone. Years ago this was so, so difficult to figure out, but nowadays, Virgin mobile in Australia just allows you to roam for $5 a day (about EUR 3) and being able to access my Vélib app and Google maps was a lifesaver. Of course, I got lost a ton of times and took wrong turns, but what better city in the world to be lost but Paris?

Posted in Advice, Paris | Leave a comment

The Global Monitoring Report on Education for All

Originally published on 28 April 2015 on

I had the most amazing work opportunity and experience in the last six months. I was hired by the Global Monitoring Report (GMR) team to be the editor for their 2015 report, Education for All 2000–2015: Achievements and Challenges.

This involved working at UNESCO’s office in Paris for a few months with a dedicated and intelligent group of researchers, and to learn about the status of education around the world.

While education isn’t an area that I’m expert in, I welcomed the opportunity to learn about a new field, and I saw my role as an editor to provide an outside perspective: the report is meant to be as accessible as possible, and to be read by both experts and students, in universities and in communities.

I was shocked by what I learned: still so much illiteracy in the world, children out of school, mostly in conflict-affected areas, and kids being taught by teachers who have no more than primary education. The social justice issues that I’ve been involved seem almost a luxury when so many kids aren’t being taught to read or write.

This editorial, How We Can Make Education For All A Reality, by a Nobel Peace Prize winner, from the Huffington Post is a good overview of successes, failures and lessons.

The report was released and launched in April 2015 and is available online.

Update: While I had a break, I’m back as the structural editor for the GEM Reports, doing my editing from Australia rather than in Paris. I still love working with this team and learning about the latest developments in education. Visit the report here.

Posted in Editing & Work | Leave a comment

Book Reviews on HIV and sexuality

Originally published on 26 October 2015 on

From the archives, here are two book reviews that I wrote for the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisation’s (AFAO) National AIDS Bulletin.

First of all, a short book review from NAB, volume 13, no 5, 2000 on Peter A. Jackson and Gerard Sullivan (editors)’s Multicultural Queer: Australian Narratives:

An invitation (as in the words from Edward Said) to ‘break down the stereotypes and reductive categories that are so limiting to human thought and communication’.

Multicultural Queer Review

In Endangering Relations: Negotiating Sex and AIDS in Thailand, Chris Lyttleton delves into the real stories behind a country being held up as an example of how the world should respond to HIV.

Endangered Relations Review

Posted in Editing & Work | Leave a comment

An article on access to HIV drugs

Originally published on 26 October 2015 on

From the archives, here is an article that I wrote for the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisation’s (AFAO) National AIDS Bulletin.

In 1999, the hot issue was how to get HIV drugs to those who needed them. One way was to find legal ways to import or produce those drugs so they would be affordable. This article on drug access appeared in NAB, volume 13, no 1, 1999:

Article in the National AIDS Bulletin on global access to HIV drugs

Posted in Editing & Work | Leave a comment

Avoiding jargon words

Originally published on 27 July 2014 on

The British Home Office has produced a style guide which recommends against a whole lot of jargon words.

It’s excellent, particularly the section on Plain English.

I have to admit to being guilty to using some of this jargon in my editing and writing work…

What about you? Guilty?

Here’s their section on Plain English excerpted:

Don’t use formal or long words when easy or short ones will do. Use ‘buy’ instead of ‘purchase’, ‘help’ instead of ‘assist’, ‘about’ instead of ‘approximately’ and ‘like’ instead of ‘such as’.

We lose trust from our users if we write government ‘buzzwords’ and jargon. Often, these words are too general and vague and can lead to misinterpretation or empty, meaningless text. We can do without these words:

  • agenda (unless it’s for a meeting)
  • advancing
  • collaborate (use ‘working with’)
  • combating
  • commit/pledge (we need to be more specific – we’re either doing something or we’re not)
  • countering
  • deliver (pizzas, post and services are delivered – not abstract concepts like ‘improvements’ or ‘priorities’)
  • deploy (unless it’s military or software)
  • dialogue (we speak to people)
  • disincentivise (and incentivise)
  • empower
  • facilitate (instead, say something specific about how you are helping)
  • focusing
  • foster (unless it’s children)
  • impact (as a verb)
  • initiate
  • key (unless it unlocks something. A subject/thing isn’t ‘key’ – it’s probably ‘important’)
  • land (as a verb. Only use if you are talking about aircraft)
  • leverage (unless in the financial sense)
  • liaise
  • overarching
  • progress (as a verb – what are you actually doing?)
  • promote (unless you are talking about an ad campaign or some other marketing promotion)
  • robust
  • slimming down (processes don’t diet – we are probably removing x amount of paperwork etc)
  • streamline
  • strengthening (unless it’s strengthening bridges or other structures)
  • tackling (unless it’s rugby, football or some other sport)
  • transforming (what are you actually doing to change it?)
  • utilise

Avoid using metaphors – they don’t say what you actually mean and lead to slower comprehension of your content. For example: drive (you can only drive vehicles; not schemes or people)

  • drive out (unless it’s cattle)
  • going forward (unlikely we are giving travel directions)
  • in order to (superfluous – don’t use it)
  • one-stop shop (we are government, not a retail outlet)
  • ring fencing

Posted in Editing & Work | Leave a comment

NTT Communications Brochure

Originally published on 7 May 2014 on

Since last year, I’ve been copywriting for NTT Communications (NTT ICT), an information, communication and technology company expanding its operations in Australia (in its entirety, the company, headquartered in Japan, is one of the world’s largest companies of its type).

I love my work with NTT ICT. The people I work with there are lovely to work with: friendly and professional. I get to work in an area that I’m not familiar with (I know a lot more about Cloud services than I did before!), and I get to make my client’s words better.

As a copywriter, I don’t necessarily need to be an expert in my client’s field. Accessible and clear writing makes sure that a broad audience can understand and engage with it. While technical or specialised language is sometimes necessary, a good copywriter and editor will still be able to make sure that the messages are clear, the grammar is correct and the text is free of mistakes.

This general brochure that I worked on with NTT ICT takes copy that I wrote for their website combined with materials they supplied, all edited up and checked over and proofread.

And then, I think it might just be the nicest looking brochure I’ve ever worked on! Check it out by clicking here: NTT Brochure. The reduced-size PDF has deleted words from the cover and slightly altered the colour scheme. Simply ‘view’ it as a PDF in your browser or download it to see its full glory. It’s BEE-you-tiful.

Posted in Editing & Work | Leave a comment

A little bit of writing assistance for Sydney Dance Company

Originally posted 8 October 2015 on


What an absolute pleasure to providing copywriting and editing assistance to the Sydney Dance Company, including for their latest programme, for the amazing ‘Triptych’, a set of three works, all set to the music of Benjamin Britten.

I was able to see this show on a special Opening Night, and I was in awe over the beautiful dancing and the amazing creativity and artistry that brought these pieces to life.

Posted in Editing & Work | Leave a comment

2023 in lists: concerts & shows, theatre, books, movies and TV

A work in progress …

Movies (seen on TV, probably on a streaming service, or on an airplane)

  • Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery: What I liked about this was how purely entertaining it was. It had no pretensions except to be enjoyable, and we did.
  • Amsterdam: The star power was incredible and I really enjoyed Christian Bale. But it was weird. When Mike Myers was on-screen, it became a Mike Myers film, and then when Robert De Niro was on-screen, it was a Robert De Niro film. The story seemed an excuse to put everyone together.
  • The Menu: Apropo of the news that the restaurant Noma is closing comes a movie that combines TV shows like Iron Chef and the Chef’s Table, the excesses of fine dining taken to a new level and combined with a dark horror show: this movie was absolutely bonkers and I loved it. 
  • Matilda, the Musical: We saw the musical in NYC one year and were interested to see how they expanded the musical into a movie. Love, love, love the music. Love everything about Emma Thompson’s performance. It’s a dark story, as bequeathed by Roald Dahl, and a lot of fun. 
  • The Big Sick: Having watched Kumail Nanjiani in Welcome to Chippendales, I wanted to see his breakthrough movie. It is superb. A story about a girlfriend in a coma, stand-up comedy and Muslim family life, it also happens to be a rom-com. Really. The writing is so smart and funny.
  • See How They Run: An amusing romp with fun actors, and probably more amusing if I’d seen ‘The Mousetrap’. 
  • Emily the Criminal: I was engaged by this, but such a dark film and a dark character: I didn’t love it. 

Movies (seen in the cinema)

  • Avatar: The Way of Water: I can barely remember the first one, though I saw it and I remember some of the controversy over whether people liked the computer animation or not. I liked a lot about the film, the images, the world building, but could have done without all the violent battle scenes, and the story and characterisations were really basic and juvenile. It didn’t appeal to me.
  • Triangle of Sadness: Damn it. WTF? Winning the Cannes best film award and the bonkers trailer, we thought this would be amusing. But it was chaotic and shallow, and whenever hinting at some depth of commentary or thinking, it veered away. Too nonsensical to be entertaining and the criticism of the wealthy was as shallow as it portrayed the characters to be. 


  • Wednesday: I did find this entertaining, and Jenna Ortega is a star. I found it slow in parts and that it could have been a bit better, but I don’t think I was the target audience.  
  • The Resort: This science fiction time-travelling murder mystery was called a cross between ‘White Lotus’ and ‘Murders in the Building’, so we HAD to see it. Starring William Jackson Harper, Cristin Milioti and others, this was really engaging and whacky. We quite, quite liked it. 
  • Welcome to Chippendales: A sordid tale, told with camp abandon. Some critics have been calling it shallow but I found the performances great and was drawn in.
  • Fleishman is in Trouble: Such a dark vision of middle age, at least rich, straight, Jewish middle-aged New Yorkers with kids. And never have I seen a television show (a mini-series at least) with so much narration, literary narration since it was adapted from a book (that I loved) and that it worked. I found this to be amazing television: funny, sad, transfixing, engaging and original.
  • Borgen, season 3: Husband is watching this for the first time and I’m rewatching it. Such good TV. I’m transfixed by the great actors and wonderful storytelling. 
  • Smiley: A gay Spanish rom-com, told in eight episodes, based on a play. I actually found the writing really weak in parts, but I was so charmed by some of the characters, and felt their emotion, that I’m glad we watched it. 
  • Conversations with Friends: 12 half-hour episodes of dreamy melancholy, it took me forever to get all the way through it: I found something interesting about how natural the characters were and spoke and yet, in the end, not enough happened for me, not enough developed. Asked to engage with a lead character who is supposedly such a promising writer, but is, as clearly spelled out, unemotional, inexpressive and with little self-knowledge: in the end, I wasn’t on board. 

Documentaries and Reality Television

  • Physical: 100. I’ve always liked TV competitions, such as Gladiators or the challenges on Survivor. But this was next level. Take 100 attractive and generally interesting athletes from Korea, and combine it with Squid Game and we were completely transfixed by this. 


  • Andrew Sean Greer’s Less is Lost. Review here.

Concerts, Shows, Theatre, Exhibitions & Words

  • Lil Nas X: A We’re not really fans but wanted to see the phenomenon, and it was a phenomenon! A sold-out concert with a very diverse crowd, including children, who all seemed to know all the words to the song. Being at the Hordern Pavilion, I couldn’t see much from where we were; I’d plan better next time to try to grab a seat at the side. All in all, I’m amazed and pleased that a gay black rapper and musician has become so popular and loved. 
  • Sydney Modern: We finally visited the new addition to the Art Gallery of NSW and what a weird place it is. Absolutely loved some of the exhibitions and art, such as the theme of home, and the big primal sci-fi constructions in the oil tank in the basement. And yet there was no much open space and the greenery hasn’t grown. It felt in places like a convention centre. 
  • La Cage Aux Folles, The Concourse, Chatswood: I was surprised at how silly and old-fashioned this musical was, and to find out what a huge success it was at the time. Times change, I guess. 

Posted in Book, Concert, Exhibition, Film, Review, Theatre/Show | Leave a comment